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The relationship between education and environmentalism: support for reorienting environmental education Category: Directed Research Author: Andrew Puglia Research Collaborators: Julia Breul, Rachel Chalat, Veronica Clarkson, Justin Vertogen and Sergio Molina (Resource Person) Site: Quebrada Ganado, Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica Keywords: environmentally significant behavior, behavior change, environmental concern, causal factors, Costa Rica Abstract Societys movement towards sustainability requires changing individual attitudes, values, and perceptions of the environment and the institutional and organizational rules and resources that enable the expression of environmentally beneficial behavior. Humans are currently functioning outside the sustainable parameters of the environment and need to make significant changes so that future generations do not suffer negative consequences. Sustainability begins with the conception of public understanding that humans have had a detrimental impact on the environment and that an urgent need for innovative solutions to environmental problems exist. This study seeks to observe the role that education plays in influencing the publics environmental concern and whether it affects individual behavior. Interviews of individuals in the Costa Rican towns of Jaco, Herradura and Quebrada Ganado revealed socio-demographic information of individuals and their familiarity, attitudes and behaviors associated with environmental issues. The relationship between education level and environmentalism was explored and results revealed a negative relationship. Analysis is given for the causal factors of environmentally significant behavior and inferences are made as to why data did not support the evidence of a relationship between education level and environmentalism. Additional analysis of the current environmental education system is provided and theoretical proposals for the direction of the systems future are suggested so that behavior can be changed. Introduction The definition of sustainability states that we must meet the needs of the present without endangering the capabilities of future generations (Brundtland 1987; Klauer 1999). This new frontier of society has no final destination, end point or fixed goal of achievement, but rather, it is seen as a dynamic, non-linear process characterized by systematic thinking to enact and modify the behaviors of institutions and individuals (Mog 2004). Systematic thinking is a way of improving relationships to optimize performance (Richmond 1994). In the case of sustainability, it represents the improvement of our relationships with the environment to optimize its


functionality and that of our society. Those relationships include our use of environmental resources and the impact we have on the functioning of environmental services. Sustainable management of our resources and reducing the negative impacts that interrupt the functioning of environmental services follows this sustainable tract. Sustainability emphasizes the importance of our relationships with the environment and can be realized by integrating a balance between the economy, environment, and society (Hjorth and Bagheri 2005). It is the perpetual adaptation to changing environmental conditions and the continuous integration of low impact, environmentally efficient systems. It is undoubtedly realized that humans have had a significant impact on the environment and that there is a problem of ,,unsustainability (Fernandez-Manzanal et al. 2007; Macnaghten and Jacobs 1997). We have developed outside the sustainable parameters of nature, excessively consuming and polluting our natural resources at the cost of other species, habitats and the proper functioning of natural cycles (Gardener and Stern 1996; Semenza et al. 2008). This distance has been led by our instinct to optimize our species survival through, for example, the advancement of technology, medicine, and infrastructure. Mankinds distinct ability to investigate curiosity, interpret results, and act on realizations has allowed us to construct a society where the environment is manipulated to meet our needs and suffice our desires and demands. The degradation of the environment is a consequence of the societal institutions we have constructed and the ways individuals behave (Nordlund and Garvill 1993). Our development has often remained remiss from the environmental impact such construction could have, but in recent years environmental awareness has become increasingly prevalent in the public (Dunlap et al. 2000).


Although the achievement of sustainability is represented with ambiguous ideals and end targets, the starting point begins with the conception of the publics understanding of the issues. The necessary changes to mitigate environmental degradation are inconceivable without the publics acceptance that negative environmental impacts are attributed to human behavior and that there is an urgent need to implement systematic changes involving institutions and individuals that encourage pro-environmental behavior (Macnaghten and Jacobs 1997). Developing individuals concern for environmental issues and shifting behavioral patterns that represent positive environmental impacts is an integral factor in propelling the sustainability movement. Changing these behavioral patterns so that individuals demonstrate pro-environmental action has been extensively researched with varying results. Researchers have proposed interventions in behavior through religious and moral approaches, education, market based approaches and incentive driven strategies. Previous research attempts to identify aspects that lead to significant environmental behavior change but have revealed inconsistent findings. Education is often the proposed intervention strategy. Hale (1993) states that only through environmental education can people develop a sense of concern for local and global issues. Sudarmadi et al. (2001), Ajzen (2001) and Ajzen (1991) imply that education encourages attitudinal and behavioral changes that result in pro-environmental action. These researchers believe that strong support for the importance of education in changing public perception of the environment exists. Yet, opposition argues that education has shown disappointing results in affecting behavior change and has failed to transform the unsustainable lives of individuals and society (Fien 1993; Fien 1999; Strife 2010).


With distinct differences in the opinions and evidence presented by researches, this study seeks to observe the role that education plays in influencing the publics environmental concern and whether it affects individual behavior. It is predicted that individuals with higher education levels will both exhibit greater environmental concern and behave in a pro-environmental manner. Further analysis of the environmental education system is provided along with theoretical proposals for the direction of environmental educations future. By interviewing individuals in three Costa Rican towns about demographic information and their familiarity, attitudes, and behaviors associated with environmental issues, the relationship between education level and environmentalism is shown. Suggestions for improving the publics perception, attitude, and behavior towards environmental issues are also explored. Methods Our study began in April of 2010 by the School for Field Studies (SFS) sustainable development program in Costa Rica. In conjunction with the spring semester students at the SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS), Dr. Sergio A. Molina formulated a research plan to conduct interviews with household individuals about their understanding and attitude towards environmental issues. The instrument used was a questionnaire developed by students and Dr. Molina. The questionnaire inquires about individuals demographic information and their familiarity, attitudes and behaviors associated with the environmental issues of 1) trash and solid waste management, 2) urbanization, and 3) climate change. The questionnaire was tested on community members in the rural town of Atenas, Costa Rica and with the staff at CSDS. The interviews were conducted in the fastest growing county of Costa Rica in the three towns of Jaco, Herradura and Quebrada Ganado.


Students interviewed individuals in Jaco and Herradura in April of 2010, followed by Quebrada Ganado interviews during the fall semester in November of 2010. Students worked in groups of two or three, with nine students conducting surveys each semester, amounting to a total of eighteen students. A census process was used to interview individuals and the questionnaires were kept anonymous and confidential. Researchers divided into groups to interview people in each town. Interviews lasted between thirty minutes and two hours. Students collected data from 233 individuals between the three towns and data was compiled and organized. After all the interviews were conducted, questionnaires were compiled into one dataset and audited to correct for mistakes and to categorize data. The first part of my analysis was to observe the relationship between education level and environmentalism. An individuals environmentalism, interchangeable with environmental concern, was measured by the individuals response to the following question during the interview: Which of the following two options would you choose as the main working area of the government of Costa Rica? () 1. Produce greater economic growth for the country () 2. Improving the country's environmental quality Choosing option 2, Improving the country's environmental quality, was viewed as displaying concern for the environment and thus, displaying environmentalism. On the questionnaire, individuals reported their education level between 0 and 16 years. Their information was then categorized for analysis by the following: 0 ­ 6 = Elementary 7 ­ 11 = High School


12 ­ 16 = Higher Education The second part of my analysis was to observe the relationship between education level and whether or not individuals recycled. Their response to the ,,yes or ,,no question of their recycling tendencies, displayed whether they enacted environmentally conscious behavior. To analyze the data, JMP statistical software was used and a Chi Square test was used to evaluate the relationships. Results Analysis of the data shows that there is no significant relationship between education level and environmental concern (Chi Square = 0.6393, DF=2, P-Value=.10), observed in Figure 1. Note that six individuals were taken out of analysis because of lack of response.

Figure 1: Contingency mosaic plot of individual's education level by their main national concern (government focus)

Table 1 provides a general demographic profile of the people that are viewed as exhibiting environmentalism. It is important to note that of the individuals that expressed concern for the environment, only 44.4% reported a tendency to recycle. This reveals that


although an individual expresses environmentalism, they do not necessarily engage in environmentally significant behavior. Under the average column, the income for Jaco and Herradura (J/H), were averaged together because they are both considered tourist areas of similar development status. Quebrada Ganado (QG) displays a significantly lower average monthly income.

Table 1: Sociodemographic profile of individuals that expressed environmentalism

Total Individuals Gender Average Education Level Average Age Community Average Monthly Income Recycle


66.4% female 33.6% male



63.4% Jaco/Herradura 36.6% Quebrada Ganado

382,374 (J/H) 280,325 (QG)

55.6% 44.4%

No Yes

Analysis reveals that there is a significant relationship between education level and whether or not individuals recycle (Chi Square = 0.0169, DF=5, P-Value=0.10), displayed in Figure 2. Note that one individual was taken out of the analysis because of an indistinguishable response to a survey question.

Figure 2: Contingency mosaic plot of individual's education level by their tendency to recycle


Discussion Upon observing that education level does not show a relationship with environmental concern, I continued my research by investigating what role, if any, education has in affecting the individual (note that the questionnaire inquired about general education, not environmental education). As shown above in Figure 2, analysis reveals that there is a significant relationship between education level and pro-environmental behavior, which is characterized in this study as an individuals tendency to recycle. But, as shown in Table 1, only 44.4% of individuals that demonstrated environmental concern actually recycle, revealing that individuals exhibiting environmentalism do not necessarily act using environmentally conscious behaviors. These observations lend the questions of what instills ones environmentalism; how does environmentalism relate to behavior; how does education actually influence the individual and what is its significance in generating change? In addressing what instills environmentalism, theories suggest that individual values are at its basis. Inglehart (1990) proposes that post-materialist values, those emphasizing the desire for quality of life, are the distinguishing characteristics of individuals that show environmentalism. Dietz et al. (1998) shows that religious and cultural values can also influence level of environmentalism, observing that some religions instill the belief that nature is sacred and vital in our lives. These values emphasize the necessity of preservation and ethical treatment of the earth. Altruistic values, those acting in selflessness and for the good of others, encourage environmentally conscious behavior due to their perspective that personal contribution to environmental degradation is harmful to the whole population (Stern, 2000). Notice that these values that characterize environmentalism also encourage behaviors that reflect those morals. Why then, do individuals in this study that exhibited value for the environment, not participate in


the pro-environmental behavior of recycling? Where is the disconnection between value and action? According to Gardner and Stern (1996) and Gauagnano et al. (1995), environmental concerns are not necessarily followed by pro-environmental action. In providing reason for why this is, Stern (2000) proposes four causal variables of environmentally significant behavior that can help understand why individuals that expressed environmentalism did not recycle. They are as follows: 1) Attitudinal factors - an individuals norms, beliefs and values 2) Contextual forces - characterized by external factors such as community expectations, government policy or incentives 3) Personal capabilities - the knowledge and skills required for action, the availability of time for appropriate action, and socio-demographic factors such as age, income, or occupation. 4) Habit or routine - defined as standard operating procedures Of the 134 individuals that showed concern for the environment, 55.6% of them reported that they did not recycle, as shown in Table 1. Of those individuals, 48.7% of them provided reasons for why they did not recycle. Responses included, "no system in place", "no time", "too expensive", and "not accustomed to it". All of these responses are representative of Sterns causal variables that affect significant environmental behavior. They also provide reasons for why some of the individuals that expressed environmentalism do not recycle. In additional support, the ,,theory of planned behavior, proposed by Ajzen (1991) corresponds to the reasons that individuals did not recycle. Ajzen postulates that behavior, influenced by motivation, is only possible if that behavior is under volitional control, allowing the individual to act at will whether


to perform such behavior or not. The capability to perform behavior depends on several motivational factors including time, money, skills and knowledge. Both researchers provide logical reasoning for the explanation of the behavior of the individuals that expressed environmentalism but did not recycle. In attempt to change this behavior, analysis of the causal or motivational factors that influence significant behavior change is necessary and postulates possible improvements. Some improvement could be expanding the area of curb-side recycling programs to include every household, communicating the benefits of recycling and the consequences of not recycling to community members, making separation of recyclable items easier and time efficient or improving policies to support such programs. It is idealistic to assume that these improvements can be easily implemented. Such reform and strategy requires funding, government stability, and public acceptance. Within these communities and society there must be a foundation on which pro-environmental behavior can be built. I believe that education is the fundamental principle for encouraging behavior change, but I also believe that the strength of the global environmental education system fails to offer the appropriate knowledge and skills to cultivate an environmentally conscious society. Reorienting Environmental Education Environmental scholars have previously recognized that environmental education has failed in transforming individuals and societies to live more sustainably (Fien 1999; Strife 2010). This failure demands the reorientation of environmental education systems so that more socially critical approaches are implemented that encourage the civil involvement of students (Fien 1999). The reorientation of environmental education programs involves the development of a curriculum that provides students with knowledge and a set of skills to engage and solve


environmental issues. This curriculum is different from that of the majority of todays environmental programs in that it builds upon facts and concepts while focusing on the socioeconomic issues that are often the root of environmental issues. It integrates scientific thought into the assessment of problems and the development of solutions. This enhanced curriculum has become known amongst scholars as ,,education for the environment and develops a students capability to actively engage as an environmental citizen (Strife 2010). This education empowers individuals to participate in resolving environmental issues. The development of such curricula involves place-based learning that relates ecological issues to the locale in which issues exist. By allowing individuals to interact with local environmental problems, they have the opportunity to explore real solutions to relevant issues, build on their knowledge, and conceptualize the complexity of such issues and the strategies for resolving them (Strife 2010). The use of place-based learning in environmental education teaches students concepts beyond scientific fact and observation, it allows them to, "reflect on values and value systems, explore conditions of action, and work on possibilities for individual and structural change" (Kyburz-Graber et al. 2006). This curriculum engages individuals in experiential learning that provides a set of skills that create future decision makers, policy makers, educators, and environmentalists. Education for the environment creates a society of coherent individuals that are knowledgeable of environmental issues and possess the skills to critically think, act, and solve problems. Support for the development and the widespread implementation of new environmental education systems must come from governments, municipalities, stakeholder institutions, and the public. Environmental consciousness instills a value in individuals that view the environment as an integral factor in the optimal functioning of society. By instilling these values through


education, the environmental movement will proliferate with the public demand for sustainably efficient systems that lead to the well-being of the environment and the individual. Conclusion Understanding what contributes to an individuals understanding of the environment is important when devising a systematic approach to improving the publics environmental perception, attitude, and behavior. By interviewing individuals in three Costa Rica towns, data was collected about individuals socio-demographic information and their perception of environmental issues. Through analysis of the causes for significant environmental behavior and the observation that individuals that expressed environmental concern did not recycle, I accredit my observations to the systematic shortcomings of the education system and the absence of appropriate environmental education. Only through the development of an environmental education system that provides the knowledge and experiential skills for empowering individuals to take positive action will individuals and institutions enact in environmentally conscious behavior. Creating an environmentally coherent public will encourage the development and support of systems that reduce barriers to significant environmental behavior and thus, propel the sustainability movement.

Acknowledgements The author gratefully acknowledges the key financial and logistical support provided by The School for Field Studies Center for Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica. I also extend my gratitude to Sergio Molina for developing this research project and assisting me in the development of my paper. In addition, I acknowledge the assistance of co-researchers and fellow students Julia Breul, Rachel Chalat, Veronica Clarkson and Justin Vertongen.


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